I had slinked behind the official scorer’s table in Miami, covering a Hurricanes hoops game more than 20 years ago, with no clue how to navigate the arena.
And there was Dick Vitale, having stood up, outstretched welcoming paw. Was that for someone behind me? I actually looked. I had never met Vitale, so I introduced myself. He acted as if we were old pals.
Pfft, he said, “I know you. Great to see you, Rob. Your seat is right over there.”
He pointed me to the media room and interview areas. As nice and accommodating as kin …. well, certain kin.
Some take their digs at the famous 82-year-old broadcaster. Some call him Duke Vitale. No matter. He knows what matters, and Vitale makes his jubilant return to the air Tuesday night.
It’ll undoubtedly be another scintillating Gonzaga-UCLA matchup, this time in Las Vegas, site of plenty of compelling college basketball action this week.
No. 1 vs. No. 2. A rematch of that outrageous national semifinal, won 93-90 in overtime by the Zags, nearly eight months ago in Indianapolis.
When it was announced last week that Vitale would work a 43rd season, after bouts of chemotherapy in the wake of melanoma and lymphoma diagnoses, this game became a celebration.
And in Vegas, to boot. So fitting.
The Bruins and Zags receive their proper gravitas with one of the game’s all-time ambassadors on the call.
Cheers, Mr. Vitale.
Note: Spreads and totals listed below are derived from KenPom.com’s ratings, which many sportsbooks use to help establish opening lines. Our picks are based on these estimated numbers, so be sure to gauge the value against the actual lines before placing your wagers.
The Rematch: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 UCLA
These two have developed quite a rivalry, and that national semifinal was the game of the 2020-21 season. It’s arguable, too, but I say the Bruins would have beaten Baylor for the title had they gotten by Gonzaga.
Zags power forward Drew Timme came back for his junior campaign and has averaged nearly 21 points in four games.
Coach Mark Few added funky 200-pound, 7-footer Chet Holmgren to the fold. He made 16 of his 20 field-goal attempts in his first four games. However, only two points and five defensive boards against Texas show he has much to learn.
The Zags enter the week sporting Ken Pomeroy’s top adjusted-offensive efficiency, at 120.8; UCLA (114) is seventh.
Bruins senior post man Cody Riley (sprained left-knee ligament) would be valuable in containing Holmgren, but his return from the two-week-old tweak isn’t certain. Senior power forward Myles Johnson, though, can handle the chore.
Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez, Peyton Watson, and Jules Bernard, and junior point man Tyger Campbell, will be ready for another late-night game on a national outlet (10 p.m. ET, ESPN), with Vitale in the house at T-Mobile Arena.
We see a high-octane performance by both sides, maybe as special as what happened in early April.
UCLA’s first four games this season all sailed ‘over’ (by a 22-point average), and its 94.8-point average is topped only by Iowa (97.3).
Based on a projected total employing KenPom’s numbers, we are on the ‘over’.
Gonzaga vs. UCLA Pick
Heavyweight Bout: Gonzaga vs. Duke
For the second time in four days, the Zags play on the south end of the Strip, at T-Mobile. They’ll be comfortable and cozy, unlike their foes, whose body clocks will be turning to the following day in the second half for the 10:30 p.m. ET tip on Friday (ESPN).
We saw what happened to a similarly high-rated title contender from the East, when Villanova dealt with that odd tip-off issue recently against UCLA in Pauley Pavilion.
It was a horrid end of regulation and overtime for the Wildcats in an 86-77 loss. The Bruins did have something to do with that, but the wee hours didn’t help Nova.
Gonzaga Vs. Duke Pick
New Kid On The Block: No. 2 UCLA at UNLV
Under new coach Kevin Kruger, Lon’s son who is running a program for the first time, the Rebels eked out of the gate at 3-0. UNLV failed to cover any of those spreads, and all three finished under their total, by an average of 17 points.
Late Friday night, which translated to a 1 a.m. Saturday tip for the body clocks of Michigan players, the Wolverines beat the Rebels, 74-61. The spread flirted around 12.5 and 13, so it was a squeaker for most bettors.
UNLV looked like a bunch of individuals, gunning away with scant cohesion. Not surprisingly, the Rebels have an effective field-goal percentage of 42.1, in the bottom 15-percentile in college hoops, and their 3-point touch is even worse.
By contrast, UCLA excels everywhere. Bruins boss Mick Cronin will be coaching the 606th game of his career; it’ll be the seventh for Kruger, when these teams meet at Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday (5 p.m. ET)
UCLA At UNLV Pick
Also read: Conference Championship value plays